Mumbai: Armed with vibrant charts and technology, eager 11-year-old students prepared to daze the crowd of parents, visitors, and seniors that would soon flock in at the Bombay International School (BIS) - Junior on Thursday morning.
All 39 fifth graders at BIS spent nearly 6 to 8 weeks thinking about the conflicts they witnessed and the resolutions they could work towards on their own, the culmination of which was the exhibition set up on May 11. From war and refugees, caste and manual scavenging, and child labour, to gender stereotypes, the children boldly dealt with topics that they are often sheltered from.
“Grown-ups talk about all kinds of different things. They’ll worry about the heat, the weather, but why does no one talk about child labour even when you see it all around you?” said 11-year-old Qasim Merchant, before he went on to explain the extent of child labour in Mumbai. The student pulled out pictures of two such young child labourers who he interviewed. “Talking to them, seeing where they live, was overwhelming. I learned how they supported their families financially and were proud of it. This changed my perspective on the issue,” he added.
Photo by Vijay Gohil
A swarm of engrossed parents moved around the space, engaging in the activities planned by the students. One such experience was found at Veer Garg’s table which told the story of manual scavengers. Inspired by a book and the help of a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officer, the student interviewed three men who work as manual scavengers for the civic body. “I also spoke to Ramesh Harhalkar, a social worker, and photographer Sudharak Olwe to understand the depth of the issue and its relation to the caste system,” said Veer while displaying a small book he wrote on the topic.
The ideas behind the projects seemed to come from cues students had picked up from books, school, conversation, and even their personal lives. Seeing his grandparents battle diabetes, a young Akshay Kejriwal set up a project to inform people about the causes of the disease as everyone cannot afford healthcare.
Keya Mehta’s exhibit, on the other hand, seemed to stem from the love she harboured for sports. “Sports is my life! This is why I wanted to teach others to play too,” chimed the young girl who taught students in a Worli-based orphanage to play badminton. “I was a little nervous to play with students older than me, but as the teacher I could not afford to be scared,” she added.
Photo by Vijay Gohil
Though many would shy away from sending the child out into the world at such a young age, the parents had something different to say. “The children are bound to learn about conflicts in some way or the other, so it is best that they do it in this manner,” said Bhavika Patel, who also acted as a parent-mentor through the project.
School heads, ex-professors, senior students, and teachers soon walked in to encourage the young ones in their last project before they bid adieu to BIS junior and went on to senior classes. More than happy to narrate their pieces again, each student engaged with vast groups and answered their questions. “Though different, this kind of learning ensures that children are studying what they want to study," said Dr. Cyrus Vakil, Principal of Bombay International School.
Photo by Vijay Gohil
Students went on to play the role of a teacher throughout the day as they illuminated the audience with stories and documentaries on topics of pollution, mental health, gender stereotypes, colourism, and more, which are pressing on the minds of today’s children.
Amaira Jagtiani | Special Arrangement
A story of grit!
Since she was a small child, Amaira Jagtiani has been coping with the aftereffects of several invasive operations, cerebral palsy, and septicemia; she is currently 12 years old and presented an exhibit on the need of protecting the environment. The fact that the student was faced with this obstacle did not prevent her from producing an attractive display that detailed the effects of deforestation.
The young student also made balls of seeds to give out to everyone who stopped by in order to provide some substance to the message she was trying to convey. She advised her other classmates, "You can plant these seeds directly for a greener environment if you happen to go on vacation or if you happen to be out and about in the city."
"Despite all of these surgeries, Amaira has managed to muster a great vocabulary and incredible memory," said Ami Jagtiani, the little girl's mother. "She has discovered a way to enjoy life without being bothered by the things that have taken place.
She is naturally inquisitive, so she flits from one subject to another with ease and adores engaging in conversation about the things that fascinate her," according to her father, Sharan Jagtiani, "her current preoccupation is the Indian mythology and all of the epics that she has been reading," he added.
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